Tomorrow is for tonight’s forgiveness

My mind is in several places right now. I’m building my own business, which involves diverse work. I’m working on Arts Advocacy day stuff, including research and planning in preparation for the day: March 31. I’m working on a dance show – All Good Men – which I’ve blogged about before. And at the same time I’m trying to get my head back into what was my masters thesis (which will be out soon as a book) cause I need to get a few articles together so I can, eventually, make money off of the publication.

The basic idea I’m working on is an environmental idea. It’s about how we understand the natural world. Do you ever think that western medicine is kind of messed up, the way it treats the body as a machine? Lots of people think that way — it’s why holistic medicine has gotten so big. Lots of people also think the way we relate to nature is whack.

The way we relate to nature, and the way we relate to the body are one and the same.

Does this matter? It’s an idea. Not a unique idea. But an idea. How we relate to the body is representative of how we relate to the rest of the world.

quote_compassionI remember in Macro class as an undergrad discussing savings rates. We were looking at (even back then) rising deficit, and trade deficit, and how individual savings patterns are mirrored in government spending. My teacher was saying that while hypothetically we don’t want lots of debt, the last thing we want is for people to ever start spending less. While there is an ‘ideal’ savings rate, and a ‘safe’ savings rate, if people ever start saving more they are spending less – which is bad for the economy.

You can have a clear idea. You can know how it works, but then you can also see and decide what you should do. Not exactly sure where I’m going with this…. I wrote in an earlier post that looking at graphs of rising deficits is like looking at graphs of rising green house gasses. It’s really easy to feel like they don’t matter. Cause they don’t right now. Social security, greenhouse gasses, nuclear war…

One of the arguments against Kyoto, and raising cafe (fuel) standards is that ‘we can’t afford it’. Or, ‘they can’t afford it’. At some point, if all these theories are right, we will pay for it. Probably more all at once than we would like. It’s a bit like shoving a whole bunch of tunafish in a pillow. Sooner or later, you’re gonna have a really stinky mess.

It’s amazing to me that they are saying maybe this latest stimulus won’t be enough. Enough for what? Enough for whom? We live in a world that is constantly achieving new balance points. It never stops. Like our bodies, moving with our breath, and our hearts, moving our blood every moment we’re alive, the world moves.

We know we can’t afford to spend the way we are. We know we can’t use energy the way we are. There is very simple economic data that tells us this. The market evolves, and when the internal combustion engine develops, the people who make carriages are screwed. Here, and now, we can choose to let the economy crash, soundly, and with some grace, or we can….

Sooner or later we pay for stupid decisions. “Tomorrow is for tonight’s forgiveness” I wrote in a bad poem a few years ago. Clear ideas are guideposts that can help us know how it all works. But even if we do know how it works, there is still the matter of how it is actually gonna work. I appreciated Warren Buffet’s statement a few months ago that, “when others are scared be bold. when others are bold, be scared.” But I think maybe he was just working for the fed when he wrote it.

Somatic Ecology

I just found out that an idea that I had in 1996 will now be a book. My Masters thesis, which had been my undergraduate thesis, is being published. Here is a brief summary of the idea:

The fight to protect our natural environment can be usefully connected to a reconsideration of the human body. The body is more than corpse, and more than adjunct to the mind. Somatic Ecology states that there is a parallel between the way that we relate to our bodies, and the ways that we interact with the natural world. In fact, how we relate to our bodies is representative of how we relate to the natural world.

Somatic Ecology states that if we want to influence how we relate to the natural world, the most direct means to do so is not to take long walks in the woods, but to invite ourselves to encounter our own human nature – our bodies. Finally, Somatic Ecology argues that the environmental crisis is caused not by too much knowledge, but by too little, and that dance can be used to increase our human knowledge.

We are taught today that the only way to “know anything is through the use of the mind. The complete devaluation of empathic, embodied, sensual knowledge in polite society has sealed over the natural in our selves. What some have called the mechanization of the body (see: modern medicine) is part and parcel of the development of modern society (see: skyscrapers and airports.) Challenging the domination of science over true reason requires challenging the domination of mind over body. The first step is to validate, seek, and encourage somatic knowledge.

Empathy is at the core of somatic understanding, and encompasses the feelings by which we know life. We usually think of empathy as somehow a shared feeling – that one feels empathy for another. Empathy is actually a solitary experience. Its importance to the study of the body, and the natural world, is that empathy is the core of knowing. Empathy preceeds understanding, and follows awareness. These feelings and understandings are not predicated upon study, research, or science, but they do form the foundation for religion, culture, and even technology. Our exclusion of “feelings” from “rational” debate is not a symbol of the environmental problem, but a root cause.

Though we act as if we live in a rational world, we actually live in an empathic, lively world that simply appears to be dominated by “reason.” As we come to fully grasp the terrors caused by un-mitigated reason it will serve us to explore what steps we might take to reverse them.

Environmentalism at its core is not motivated by statistics, but by empathy. It is more similar to religion than science. In tracing a history of Thoreau, Pinchot, Muir, Leopold, McKibben (a history of thinking about environment) we discover this. As long as environmentalists place statistics between their argument and the audience, they weaken the ability to create change. To fight this battle with limited humanity is to fight a losing battle.

In this modern world of freeways and cubicles, it will be very difficult to move from an understanding of the need for body knowledge, to a place of greater somatic awareness. For this journey one needs guides and one needs pathways. Dance may be that pathway. In silence, without words, we can find where we exist with the rest of the world, human and non-human. In dance, without words, we can both develop and communicate our understanding of that connection.

Copyright Robert Bettmann, 2008

Holy Body, Holy Earth

I submitted this piece to the magazine Parabola. It remains unpublished.

The very real question must be asked – how can we sanctify the earth when we live so very far from it? As the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs, but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” When we imagine the Earth, many people imagine a rain forest, or a lake. This conceptualization, however, keeps the earth at a distance. Two levels of distance exist there: nature to humanity, and humanity to the body.

The capacity to separate nature from humanity is what has enabled our exceptional control of nature, and similarly our exceptional disregard for our place within it. Bill McKibben noted in The End of Nature that, “[Natures] separation from human society” is what has defined nature for us in modern times. Nevertheless, humanity, and each human body, is a part of the earth.

In our construction of humanity, we have displaced that part of nature that is human – our bodies. The Environmental philosopher Michael Zimmerman considers this central to our relationship to the earth: “Perhaps the most profound aspect of our alienation from nature is being alienated from our bodies.” We can trace this understanding of humanity to Science but we can also trace it to older and newer philosophies. However it is traced, we must understand some of the framing that contributes to the physical distancing of humanity from our physique.

For various reasons, Judeo-Christianity has a troubled relationship to the body that has translated through to our science. Consider Darwins reference in The Descent of Man that “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” This comment must be considered in the context of a note he wrote in his “M” notebook: “Our descent then, is the origin of our evil passions!! – the devil under form of baboon is our grandfather.” This devil in the from of our body can be connected to – amongst other sources – Pauls Corinthian letter which, as explained by Peter Brown in The Body and Society, places the body between man and his god.

In order to reconnect the body to humanity, and so to the earth, we must learn to acknowledge its presence. David Orr certainly did not have this in mind when he wrote that, “A good way to start thinking about nature is to talk about it. A better way is to talk to it.” Nevertheless, body centered practices can be central to reconnecting to the part of the earth that is humanity, and to the body as part of that earth. We can learn to both talk and listen to our bodies. In so doing, we are conversing with the earth.

If we do not accept our organic humanity amongst the earth, we accept the terms that have led to our life in the sky. If we treat the holy earth as separate from our humanity, and our bodies, we are rebuilding the very world that has produced the skyscraper. These assumptions are quite tenable. Modern science and modern medicine have wrought extraordinary benefits. But in connecting to the purpose of life, and the science of the holy, we must expand our understanding.

The body is more than an engine, or carrier of the soul. As David Abram wrote in the seminal The Spell of the Sensuous, “Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears have attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves, and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherenece. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” At the same time, we are also holy only in contact, and conviviality with what is human.